Interested in installing solar panels? Experts say beware of door-to-door salespeople

Texans are increasingly interested in solar, but some companies over-charge and under-deliver.

By Sarah AschMay 9, 2024 12:48 pm, ,

If you live in a house rather than an apartment, you may have had this experience: Someone comes to the door to sell you solar panels.

If you want to save money on your electric bills and do something good for the environment, it might seem like an appealing offer. But as reporting from The Dallas Morning News explains, there is often a catch that will hit your bottom line down the road.

Dave Lieber, who covers consumerism and politics for the Morning News, said a lot of these door-to-door solar salesmen are offering deals that cause people problems.

“In the next 10 years, Texas will lead the nation in solar, according to the solar industry. And most polls show most Texans are interested in solar,” Lieber said. “But what happens is the guy comes to your door and he usually starts picking on the elderly or the low-income. He promises them they won’t pay any electric bill, maybe $50 a month.

“And then the next thing you know, they sign a contract, which they can’t read – it’s 32 pages of legal mumbo jumbo – and they owe $50,000. An 80-year-old person might owe $50,000 or something like that. Even the solar industry knows there’s a problem.”

Lieber said Texas Appleseed, a pro-consumer nonprofit, did an open records request and found lots of complaints about solar companies.

“They found that there have been a thousand complaints to state agencies in the past year in Texas,” he said. “They listed shoddy work, not delivering promised savings, loans shifting after 18 months and becoming more expensive, and liens put on customers’ homes. Those are the main problems.”

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For those already stuck in this cycle, Lieber said one way out is to go to court.

“There was a fellow named Jesus Hernandez of Irving, Texas, and he owed about $60,000. He hired a couple of lawyers, went to court,” he said. “And now the company has to pay $500,000. It’s under appeal. He hasn’t received any money yet, but that’s a big case, a landmark case, really, in this industry.”

Lieber said solar panels should be installed after a homeowner has done their research.

“You’ve got to have more than one person give you a bid. You’ve got to show it to a lawyer. You really have to take your time,” he said. “They pressure you into doing it right away. But you really got to go slow on this whole thing, because otherwise you could put your family in a financial catastrophe.”

He also recommended checking with the state association for the names of reputable companies.

“There’s a group called the Solar Energy Industries Association, and they have a Texas chapter and you could call them and ask about reputable companies,” he said. “That’s what you should do in any case: You should always check with the state association or the county association of whatever you’re interested in and find out who’s good.”

Otherwise, you risk paying lots of money for promises that aren’t kept by the company.

“If you got a $400 electric bill last month and somebody shows up and says, ‘hey, I can knock it down to $50, plus when everybody else goes into a blackout, you’ll still have power,’ that’s hard to turn down,” Lieber said. “But it turned out in Jesus Hernandez’s case, everybody went into blackout. And he went into blackout too. So that was a promise that was not kept.”

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